Popcorn Agnosticism: Cooking Oils

August 7, 2023 9:13 pm

We get asked about how to cook popcorn a lot.  Our fine designer friend helped us out with some pretty sweet graphics to accompany the cooking instructions on our packaging, but it leaves one thing intentionally vague: cooking oil. 

We were confirmed in our local churches growing up, but one bit of agnosticism remains: the best way to cook popcorn.  We can’t quite pinpoint the perfect way to cook popcorn.  Our go-to response is that “It Depends.”  Usually, it depends on the person and your personal preference.  That’s sort of a cop-out but it may be that the best answer is that you should buy more popcorn and try ALL the ways to enjoy #awesomepopcorn…in fact, how about a code for our shop in this blog?

Air Versus Oil

My general response is that all you need is even heat transfer and you can cook popcorn.  A friend and professor from our University, who grew up in rural India, said his family used sand of all things to cook popcorn.  Oil was too expensive and the sand helped transfer the heat on the pan to the kernels.  They sifted the sand from the popped kernels and enjoyed accordingly…we haven’t tried this method, but it highlights the plethora of popcorn cooking methods.

Air popping is the standard for serious diets as there are no added calories like you get from oil popping.  On the plus side, you only taste the popcorn so for our #RusticRed’s hearty flavor and #BlueBounty’s nuttier, crunch texture – that’s great.  Still, air seems to sort of “force” the issue a bit and it’s easy to overcook if you’re not careful. 

We’re not anti-air popping, but the traditional method cooking in oil fits our “ethos” of great food: cooking slower and better.

Cooking Oils

In general, a cooking oil will vary according to it’s “heaviness” or smoke point.  Higher smoke points will cook longer and take a bit more to pop and will thus add a bit more of the cooking oil’s flavor to the final taste of the popcorn.  Cooking oils can be used as flavoring agents, like on salad dressings or for baking, frying or sauteing. 

Oils with lower saturated fat content and higher unsaturated fat content are healthier and Omega 3 levels are healthier than Omega 6.  Another, consideration is the extent the oil is refined.  A cold-pressed, extra virgin oil doesn’t undergo the chemical extraction process as a refined oil, meaning it will retain more of the flavor and nutrients from the original oil.  It’s more expensive because it doesn’t yield as much oil from the underlying commodity, like corn or olive.

We made this list according to what we like and use in our home.  Our quality control is our own family—if we don’t eat it AND enjoy it, we don’t sell it from our #familyfarm.  It’s subjective, but honest.  We know you’ll enjoy but we accept (dare I say, encourage?) the challenge for novel or different cooking oils and methods for our #awesomepopcorn.

  • High Oleic Soybean Oil – soybean oil gets a bad rap.  Mostly because it’s largely derived from genetically modified (GMO) sources.  We are pro-GMO and pro-organic for reasons we won’t bore you with in this blog post.  A better argument against soybean oil is it’s nutritional content versus other oils—that said, the High Oleic brands (which are often non-GMO by breeding selection choice, not because non-GMO alone makes it High Oleic) makes for a PHENOMENAL experience with our #awesomepopcorn.  Generic, standard soybean oil doesn’t taste as good as the high-oleic, but it is what we use in product demonstrations because of cost AND because it puts out a great aroma that draws folks to taste our #awesomepopcorn.  We’ve actually grown some of these high-oleic soybeans on our farm and it’s another great, full-circle experience. 
  • Corn Oil – corn oil is reasonably healthy, though it gets knocked a bit because it’s polyunsaturated fats are more Omega 6 than Omega 3 (don’t ask me why 3 is better than 6).  We do like it because it adds to the “corny” nature of the popcorn.  In fact, some co-packers when making popped popcorn for sale under contract will intentionally use corn oil because of this.  It’s what our #HonestlyAwesome popcorn uses as our co-packer swears by it for ready-to-eat popcorn and, frankly, it does taste awesome.  It’s not our first choice, but corn oil is  great popcorn cooking oil.  Use code “Corn” for 25% off each bag of #HonestlyAwesome popcorn to see for yourself.
  • Sesame Oil – this one is a bit weird but hear us out.  Most of you probably don’t have sesame oil in your home, but you’ve surely had it.  It’s a primary cooking staple for Chinese food and it really, REALLY pairs well with our #BlueBounty popcorn.  We think the slightly nutty flavor of #BlueBounty is accentuated with the sesame oil’s taste profile.  When you cook with it, your kitchen will smell (amazing) like the local Happy Wok.  It’s a must for #BlueBounty enjoyment—so much so that we’ll offer code “Sesame” for 25% off each bag of #BlueBounty so you can enjoy!
  • Sunflower Oil – this one was formerly a bit higher on our list until the growth of high-oleic soybean oil.  But sunflower has a unique flavor profile and is pretty healthy too.  We have a neighbor that grows sunflowers in an effort to make his own biodiesel (he’s a SMART, COOL dude) and we get a little cold-pressed, local sunflower oil as a result. 
  • Olive Oil – this one needs no explanation.  We almost never cook with it just because it’s so ubiquitous in cooking.  We note it hear just because it’s probably one of the healthiest oils that’s also the most affordable. 
  • BONUS: Bacon Grease – yes, this you read this right.  Cook bacon in the morning and save the grease for your evening #awesomepopcorn.  It adds a distinctly smoky flavor and is obviously, obviously the least healthy option on this list.  But you should definitely try it, maybe even make it a 1 in 5 #awesomepopcorn experience. 

So there ya’ have it.  We’re (somewhat) agnostic with regard to how you cook or enjoy our #familyfarm ‘s #awesomepopcorn.  We have our favorites and would LOVE to hear yours.  Enjoy!
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